Introspective people have a problem. They are prone to be especially sensitive to internal and external criticism. This is not entirely a bad thing. Self-criticism is an important part of living an examined life, and a sensitivity to outside feedback is key to discovering and creating value in the world. Still, taking criticism personally can be debilitating in the process of achieving goals. Entrepreneurs and thinkers are messengers of challenging ideas. They have to be prepared to be shot.
This understanding of the messenger role is an important one for “thin-skinned” creators. Successful messengers care more about their message than they do about the pains it takes to deliver them. When customers stop buying, a CEO does not take personal offense – he uses this feedback to learn and to grow a better business. In philosophy, a thinker is not hurt when someone challenges her ideas – she tests the criticisms and her own ideas against reason and becomes more wise.
As in these cases, the person who prioritizes the achievement of her goals over the achievement of status will develop a different relationship to criticism. While a creator never loses sight of the importance of self-knowledge, she realizes that she is in the business of bringing ideas from her internal world into the external one. Criticism is her way of testing her creative success against the reality of others, not against her own self-worth.
As a young person in a dynamic workplace, I have experienced failure and criticism on many occasions. I only ceased to take them personally when I saw the big picture of my company’s mission and took it personally. Now I find that criticism can only help me to discover what doesn’t work – it has no power to condemn me as incapable. Knowing this has made me far more effective in my company, and it has brought me closer to being unstoppable in my pursuit of what I care about in life.
Developing this relationship to criticism does not happen overnight. It happens as a mission or an idea overrides all else in importance. The hopeful news is that thoughtful people have never had any problem in becoming passionate about new ideas. They just need the experience of making those ideas real to turn criticism from an adversary into a creative force.